It has a wingspan of 3 meters. It flies at more than 150 mph. It weighs 33 lb. It was built in half the time it would normally take because 80% of this jet powered UAV was 3D printed.
Revealed at the Dubai Airshow, this unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is believed to be, the largest, fastest, and most complex 3D printed UAV ever produced. Aurora Flight Sciences teamed with Stratasys Ltd to engineer this device.
According to Dan Campbell, Aerospace Research Engineer at Aurora Flight Sciences, the project achieved various targets. “A primary goal for us was to show the aerospace industry just how quickly you can go from designing to building to flying a 3D printed jet-powered aircraft. To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest, fastest, and most complex 3D printed UAV ever produced.”
Added Scott Sevcik, Aerospace & Defense Senior Business Development Manager, Vertical Solutions at Stratasys, “This project demonstrated many of the unique capabilities that additive manufacturing can bring to aerospace. We used different 3D printing materials and technologies on one aircraft to 3D print both lightweight and capable structural components.”
For Aurora, Stratasys’ additive manufacturing systems produced a stiff, lightweight structure without the common restrictions of traditional manufacturing methods. “Because 3D printing let us have rapid design iterations, we dramatically shortened the timeline from the initial concept to the first successful flight,” added Campbell. “Overall, the technology saw us cut the design and build time of the aircraft by 50%.”
The project used Stratasys’ Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing technology to build a completely enclosed hollow structure, which allows large – yet less dense – objects to be produced.
“In addition to leveraging FDM materials for all large and structural elements, we used the diverse production capability of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing to produce components better suited to other technologies. We elected to laser sinter the nylon fuel tank, and our thrust vectoring exhaust nozzle was 3D printed in metal to withstand the extreme heat at the engine nozzle,” Sevcik added.
For Sevcik, this particular collaborative project with Aurora achieves one of the foremost overall goals among aerospace manufacturers, as well as those in other industries, which is the need to constantly reduce weight.
“Whether by air, water or on land, lightweight vehicles use less fuel. This enables companies to lower operational costs, as well as reduce environmental impact. In addition, using only the exact material needed for production is expected to reduce acquisition cost by eliminating waste and reducing scrap and recycling costs,” he concluded.
The designers used Stratasys Ultem material, which meets FAA requirements on flame, smoke, and toxicity.